Prison debate team’s win over Harvard underscores the effectiveness of an unorthodox education program
NEW YORK –– They’ve been highly awarded as the world’s best, sharpest and most skilled minds at analyzing and presenting important societal concepts. So how did the Harvard College debate team lose to some maximum security prison inmates? The answer speaks volumes about how some people that society seems to have given up on have far more to give back than may be assumed.
The debate team is part of a larger, unorthodox education program for prison inmates called the Bard Prison Initiative, or BPI. It’s administered by Bard College, a selective liberal arts college of about 2,000 students in Annandale-on Hudson, a two hours’ drive north of New York City. The program brings Bard faculty to six different upstate New York prisons to provide liberal arts instruction to nearly 300 incarcerated students.
Many of those inmate students end up earning bachelor’s or associate’s degrees from the prestigious college through BPI, even though some of the students are incarcerated with no possibility of parole.
The BPI debaters are an even more highly motivated group than BPI students in general, who are obviously focused and striving. Those qualities are encouraged by the Bard faculty who work with them.